Thursday, June 08, 2006

"Rape has something to do with our sex. Rape is something awful that happens to females: it is the dark at the top of the stairs, the undefinable abyss that is just around the corner, and unless we watch our step it might become our destiny." - Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will, Men and Woman and Rape

Hello, and welcome to the first post of Modern Bluestocking. I wanted to start out with something more positive and upbeat, something empowering and certainly not something as potentially triggery as this. I was planning on just making this a filler post, but I caught sight of a Daily Mail headline (oh, the shame) when I was buying fishfingers, so I was inspired to write. Apparently the Sentencing Guidelines Council in the UK have finally cottoned on to the fact that rape can be traumatizing to women, even if they know their attackers. And this was literally headline news. Comparing the Guardian and Mail headlines reveals the usual patriarchal, heterocentric hysteria from the latter - 'Husbands who rape put on par with gang rapists'. I can see the knee-jerk reaction now. 'What do you mean, we need CONSENT? She married me/lives with me/used to smile at me every day in the office! She didn't have to say yes, of course she wanted it'. Given that marital rape was only criminalized 15 years ago, it shouldn't surprise me that it's taken his long to get a reasonably fair jail sentence, but it does.

In what stretch of the imagination have these men (and statistically it is men) committed a lesser crime than ones who assault and rape women they've never met? I made the mistake of reading the Daily Mail's reader comments on the website - this one, among others, made my blood boil: "And men, who may be acting out of character as a result of stress or excessive drink, will be criminalised and bracketed along with the sort of pond life that carry out real rapes. " I doubt many rapists imagine rape to be a part of their characters. I doubt many rapists, especially when the attack takes place in the context of a relationship, consider it rape.

Newsflash: sex is a complicated thing. Negotiating desire can be difficult, and I'm sure that sometimes pressure for sex is unintentional. But forcing someone into an act they refuse or are reluctant to perform, no matter what the status of your relationship with them, is about your power over them and not your desire for them. It's about valuing your own pleasure above the comfort and safety of your partner. If you respect them, take their 'No', in whatever manner it is phrased, for 'No'.

I’m glad that this is finally being given the attention it deserves, the latest in a series of women-friendly movements by the British legal system – the divorce settlements controversy will be the subject of a later post, possibly this weekend – but one thing that frustrates me is that more lenient sentences are proposed if it can be proved that the woman had already engaged in some form of sexual activity before ‘changing her mind’. Let’s take a remedial course in getting jiggy with it, shall we? Heavy petting does not always lead to sex. Neither does oral sex automatically mean that intercourse will follow. I’m concerned that this will lead to fewer convictions (because that’s all we need, making rape harder to prosecute). I’m glad that sexual assault towards partners is being given harsher sentences as well – although I’m fuzzy on the distinction between ‘sexual assault short of rape’ and ‘sexual touching of victim by offender’, and I bet the judges are as well. I’m pleased about the decision – I’m not sure when it’s going to be put into practice or if it will necessarily be in it’s current form, but I’ll keep you posted and if there’s anything we can do to convince the Powers That Be that consent to one form of sexual activity doesn’t equal consent to another, I shall marshal the troops.

I have a sister post to this about, quote unquote, 'date rape' and drugged/drunk consent (or lack thereof), but that's going to have to wait till another time.

Next up (probably) : St Hilda's College, Oxford, becomes one of an increasing number of all-women's colleges to go co-ed. Up for discussion are safe spaces, adademic sexism, gender segregation and sisterhood.

Peace out,

Kaite xx

3 Comments:

At 11:12 PM, Anonymous laix said...

It is hard to contemplate all of this given I was a feminist activist who set up a Rape and Incest Line for support survivors.....all the Myths about Rape seem to be as prevelent today as they were then in the early 80's.
The fact is that from what womon told me, to be raped by a partner/husband/familyfriend/relative was far worse than being raped by a stranger ......as the former had so many complications both in law and personal aftermath..where as stranger rape was equally horrific but as a survivor one could move on from the crime seeing it as not a personal issue.......
As far as I am concerned there should be no discussion about hierachy of experience here RAPE is RAPE and should in all circumstances where the courts bring a guilty verdic the offender should receive the maximum penalty

 
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